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APOLLO SUNSHINE 1/9, SUBTERRANEAN These three Bostonians hit the bull's-eye when they named the band: their debut, Katonah (SpinArt), is high Apollonian prog without pretension, art rock without a dour, dark, or attitudinal moment. It's not that the layers and layers of effervescent sweetness--summer-rain piano, guitars pealing like church bells, whole choirsful of healthy young voices--don't have their charm, but the cynic in me wants to see a trio try and pull all this shit off live. DRIVERS 1/9 & 10, BIG HORSE The rock dive tucked behind the El Chaparral taqueria is one of the few comfortable spaces left on the Wicker Park Monopoly board--but it makes a lot more sense as a venue for the scrappy garage bands that play there most nights than for an out-of-town trip-hop-pop act making its Chicago debut. The Iowa-based Drivers' self-released debut, Beloved, is a rather polished and assured set of ballads. They're clearly influenced by the likes of Portishead and Beth Orton, but singer May Driver, less wispy and more focused on the melodies, sounds like no one so much as the young Sinead O'Connor. SMALL BROWN BIKE 1/9 & 10, FIRESIDE BOWL After six years, this Michigan four-piece is calling its third album, The River Bed (Lookout!), its last; sadly, it's the one that really begs for an encore. Sitting almost comfortably in the eye of their own storm, SBB have created an album so beautifully shaped in its bombastic, jarring grandeur that the high emotional pitch of the lyrics feels perfectly natural. In retrospect, they may have spent too much time touring in support of acts they were better than, like the Get Up Kids. These are their final Chicago shows. ETHYL MERMEN 1/10, GUNTHER MURPHY'S Tom Long, spokesmember of this local band, reports, "Over the past few years, we built a studio, wrote, recorded, and mixed an 11-song ode to setting reachable goals and watched a lot of baseball." Hardly the stuff of which great rock 'n' roll has traditionally been made, but the end result, a self-released album called The Man Who Almost Did Something, is better than this would lead you to expect: it's carefully assembled, lush, strummy psych pop. The Mermen sound like they're aiming for majesty but can't quite decide if it qualifies as "reachable." This is their first Chicago show in three years. SLEEPING AT LAST 1/13, METRO Explicitly Christian rock tends to meet with resistance from the secular audience, either as discomfort with the emotional expression of religious belief or simply an understandable desire to avoid proselytization--that spiritual telemarketing call that comes right when you sit down to enjoy a good dinner of music. But U2 and the Waterboys got past this (to varying degrees), and those are the bands this Wheaton trio takes after in its sonic expression of faith. The feel of its Interscope debut, Ghosts--windswept, awestruck, a little fearful--is a lot more accessible than the smarmy major-key certainty on the Christian pop charts, and it gives the obligatory anthemic choruses a welcome touch of humility. THE TALK 1/14, FIRESIDE BOWL At first this Charlotte quartet's No, You Shut Up! (MoRisen) seems like it'll be an evenly matched and potentially intriguing fight between the roiling, hard-kicking sound of the band--almost "Ballroom Blitz"-style sped-up glam rock--and the oddly dreamy, distant crooning of front man Justin Williams. As it turns out, so-what melodies and sweet-corn lyrics let both sides down; the bite-size songs just aren't as catchy as they need to be. Still, these guys muster a lot of energy, especially considering they must at least suspect you stopped paying attention a few minutes ago. LYING IN STATES 1/15, SCHUBAS Refusing to choose sides between dance music and rock, locals Lying in States fire up delirious keyboard riffs alongside the grubby guitars and generally confuse everyone with a drunken-master style of postmodern postpunk that justifies titles like "Fall or Stumble" and "Tackle Me I'm on Fire." The release of their debut, Most Every Night (Flameshovel), has been pushed back till March.

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